In Magdala, the path from the synagogue toward Duc in Altum is lined with centuries-old olive trees on either side. By late October, the silvery-green leafed branches bow down to visitors, weighed low by hundreds of fleshy green and brown dangling fruit. In November, a team of volunteers usually rake trees and shake branches until olives fall onto the nets spread out next to the gnarled tree trunks. This week-long process also involves transporting the harvest to our local olive press, and then labeling bottles of Magdala Olive Oil to sell in our gift shop.
Walking the path this October, I left oil stained footprints behind me on the cement after crushing dozens of unharvested ripe olives underfoot – a reminder that Covid has emptied Magdala of her volunteers this strange year.
The amount of oily substance given up by each olive under the weight of my step surprised me as I looked back over my shoulder. Modern olive growers can apparently count on a yield of about 1 liter of virgin oil for every 10 kilos of olives harvested. I picked up a darker ripe olive and crushed it between my fingers as I thought of the how the ancient Israelites and other Mediterranean civilizations relied on olive oil for everything from food, to healing, to lighting lamps. Olive oil was also used to consecrate kings, priests and prophets. As I rubbed my oily fingers together, I looked toward Duc in Altum and thought of Christ Jesus, Priest, Prophet and King, ‘the one anointed with oil’, the Messiah. With the Bride of the Song of Songs, I prayed,
Your name is an oil poured out… (Song of Songs, 1:3)
Like oil, the name of the Beloved is sufficient to move her deeply, penetratingly. “Oil enlightens, strengthens the body and calms pain,” according to St. Bernard of Clairvaux. “The same thing can be said about the name of the Bridegroom. He enlightens when we preach him, nourishes when we meditate about him, and is a calming balm when we invoke him.” Simply repeating the name of Jesus is itself a powerful and quasi-sacramental prayer, commonly practiced by Eastern-rite Christians as they finger their ‘Chotki’ or prayer rope, reminding them to pray without ceasing.
As oil, the name of Jesus peacefully penetrates our deepest being, moving us to conversion and renewal. With the Feast of Christ the King approaches this November, let us allow the name of Jesus to peacefully penetrate, soften, calm, enlighten and heal our hearts. May Jesus ‘the Anointed’ consecrate and seal us with the oil of His name.